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by Amy Hammond Hagberg

He’s been called a guitar prodigy, a virtuoso, and a once-in-a-generation blues artist.

His debut solo album, Lie to Me, was recorded when he was just 15 years old. It went platinum, as did the following year’s release, Wander This World. He spent his teenage years with guitar legends like B.B. King and Buddy Guy and toured almost non-stop with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Sting. Altogether, Jonny Lang has recorded five albums and earned a Grammy nomination.

By society’s standards, he was a wild success. But between the drinking, the drugs and his fascination with the occult, Lang was about as lost as he could possibly be.Catapulted into the music spotlight when he was only 13, critics and fans were astounded by Lang’s soulful playing and gravelly vocals; he sounded more like a 40-year-old blues veteran than a North Dakota farm boy.

His first band was called “Jonny Lang and the Big Bang.” After two years together, they attended a showcase event where record labels were scouting for new acts. Lang was snapped up and signed as a solo artist by A&M Records.
Lie to Me debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s New Artist chart. The excitement and pressure of being with a major label definitely changed things for Lang.

“I was on the road constantly, playing with musicians twice my age in places where they check your ID at the door. But it didn’t matter how old I was because I was the headliner,” he says. Lang’s circle of friends was considerably older, forcing him to grow up far too quickly. “I got involved with a lot of ‘adult’ activities very young ... I joined the band and started drinking, started smoking cigarettes ... By the time I was probably 17, I was smoking two packs a day — I was an alcoholic by that time as well,” the 24-year-old remembers. By the end of his teens he was doing marijuana, ecstasy, hallucinogens and many other drugs.

Full to the brim with partying and performing, Lang had no room in his life for God. Admittedly, he was turned off by the church’s supposed legalism. “I wasn’t really at a point where I was interested in being accountable for my actions,” he confides. Instead, he traveled several other spiritual paths. “I started getting involved with other religions; I guess witchcraft for lack of a better term ... I had experiences and saw things, but I didn’t know it was bad at that time ... I thought, ‘This is where the power’s at, this is for real.’ ”

Throughout his climb to stardom, Lang’s family was constantly praying that he would come to know Jesus Christ. When he was 16, he started dating his future wife, Haylie, whom he’d met while on tour in California. Lang became good friends with her family, especially her father, Cliff.

When he was in town, Haylie’s family encouraged him to go to church with them. But he wasn’t up for it. “If anybody tried to talk to me about God or Jesus I would say things like, ‘Okay, I’ve heard that one and I’m not interested.’ ”
The couple broke up for a period of time, but when Cliff became sick with cancer and Hepatitis C, Lang paid a visit. One night while he was there, he went out with a friend to get high. They went to his friend’s apartment, but before they had a chance to do anything, the phone rang. It was Haylie’s mom informing him that Cliff had died. Upon leaving the apartment building, Lang was suddenly hit in his stomach by the most incredible force, ultimately spreading throughout his entire body.

“I had this soundness of mind and this extraordinary peace that I just couldn’t explain,” he recalls. “It was an incredible feeling.” In his mind, Lang tried to find a natural explanation for it. He certainly never thought it might have something to do with God. When he got back to the house, everybody was just beside themselves. “I was not the kind of person who could deal with those kinds of emotions. But whatever had happened to me in that apartment hallway gave me a special wisdom to handle it,” he recalls. “Everything I said was the perfect counsel — wisdom that I just did not possess.”

As the coroner was removing Cliff’s body, Lang and Haylie sat in the backyard sharing memories of her father. It was then that something supernatural occurred. Inexplicably, the power of God hit Lang so hard that he started shaking in his chair. “It was like somebody grabbed my shoulders and shook me forcefully back and forth,” he remembers. “Yet at the same time, I felt total peace. I heard Jesus say to me, ‘You don’t have to have this if you don’t want it.’ But I wanted it more than anything I’d ever wanted in my whole life.” Lang fell to the ground and gave his life to Christ right at that moment.

That was four years ago. Since then, the artist’s life has completely turned around. “From then on, I had absolutely zero cravings for the drugs, the alcohol or the tobacco. The best recovery program in the world can’t claim that,” he says. Today Lang is once again back in the limelight with a renewed vision and a shift in priorities. His musical style has evolved into an eclectic combination of soul and rock with some blues kicked in for good measure.

His latest recording, released this May, chronicles his incredible spiritual journey and is aptly titled Turn Around.
For this particular prodigy, life has gained new meaning far beyond riches or fame. “There’s nothing that could convince me otherwise; Jesus is the living God,” Lang declares.

For Jonny Lang’s complete testimony, check out ‘How Do You Know He’s Real?’ (Destiny Image) by Amy Hammond Hagberg.

photo courtesy Vector Promotion

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